Death’s Gambit is yet another game that tries to adapt Dark Souls to a 2D environment. It features some well-designed bosses, an impressive soundtrack, and a good amount of replayability. However, the game does have some issues, particularly with its movement and combat.
Excellent boss design. If there is one thing Death’s Gambit does really well, it is definitely the design of each boss fight. This not only applies to the visual design of each boss, but the actual fights as well. When it comes to the former though, the designers have really done a nice job in making each boss aesthetically unique. There is a giant owl, a frozen minotaur, a massive human-piloted golem, and even a sci-fi-looking sniper. What makes these bosses even better though is how unique each fight is. Many of the game’s bosses make use of some sort of gameplay gimmick to shake things up, making it more than just your everyday video game boss fight. For example, the fight with the frozen minotaur takes place on a pivoting platform, requiring the player to both fight the boss and make sure that the platform does not tip too far to one side. It is features like this that make each boss fight a unique, fun, and challenging encounter.
Great soundtrack. One definite improvement Death’s Gambit has over Dark Souls is that of its soundtrack. Upon opening the game, I was immediately impressed by the main menu music and that trend continued throughout my playthrough. The composer has really done some nice work here, incorporating songs that capture the game’s mood perfectly. There are plenty of slow, somber piano tunes, but also some battle themes fitting for the game’s dreary atmosphere. At the time of writing there does not appear to be an official soundtrack release, so hopefully we will be seeing one eventually.
Good amount of replayability. Death’s Gambit has a number of replayability features to keep the experience going, the first of which would be heroic mode. After defeating any of the game’s bosses, the player is able to go back to that area and fight the “heroic” version of that boss. These heroic alternatives are not only more challenging, but also use new abilities and drop better loot. I was not able to beat the few that I tried, but I can definitely see masochists getting a kick out of it. The game also has a New Game+ mode with its own customizable difficulty, offering up something to do even after the game has been cleared. It took me just under eight hours to clear the base game, so these replayability features are definitely appreciated.
Clunky dodging. The game’s biggest flaw is just how unbelievably clunky the dodging mechanic is. Dodging in combat is so slow and unresponsive that I would consider it useless in most scenarios. Attack animations need to be finished in their entirety before executing a dodge, so running up to an enemy, hitting them a few times, and then dodging back is oftentimes just out of the question. Doing so usually results in the enemy one-shotting the player before the dodge can be executed. It also does not help that the game places so much emphasis on the player’s stamina, with two attacks and a dodge roll being enough to deplete the entire bar. In fact, just to get around these problems, I ended up using a spear for the majority of my playthrough. This is due to the weapon’s quick attacks and longer range, both of which gave me some room to work with when evading enemy attacks. The game’s combat would be immensely more satisfying if the dodging at least felt somewhat responsive.
Lack of feedback when in combat. Another issue with the combat is that of the complete lack of feedback whenever the player is damaged. Oftentimes, the only feedback the player will get is that of his/her HP bar depleting, with no indication on the actual player model itself outside of the occasional white flash or two. This lead to a lot of cheap deaths on my part, as I would oftentimes die to an enemy’s attack after failing to notice that I had been damaged earlier in the fight. Some sort of larger visual indication or even a stagger would be helpful in making the combat feel more impactful.
Uncooperative ladders. Now this is going to sound like the stupidest complaint, but Death’s Gambit features some of the worst ladders I have ever had to deal with in a video game. Normally, one does not notice a good ladder in a game, because a good ladder simply does its job and nothing more. In this game though, the ladders just feel broken. Not only does one have to hold down an additional button to grab a ladder, but one must also make sure to be right on top of the ladder before grabbing it. I killed myself many times trying to jump and grab a ladder only to realize that I was not close enough to grab it, despite being right next to it. It is like the whole visual depiction of the ladder is larger than the actual size of the ladder. The game needs to increase the hitbox on these ladders and remove the whole “extra button” requirement for grabbing them as that is definitely bad design on its own. It is such a simple concept that I am amazed at just how badly implemented it was here.
Minor game crashing problem. I ran into a game crashing issue shortly after entering New Game+ mode. Upon entering this mode I went to find a statue, healed up, and then quit to desktop. I then returned later on and found that I was unable to start the game due to a crash at launch. This crash occurred every time I tried to open the game and reinstalling the game did not help. I was only able to resolve the issue with a complete computer restart. This problem only happened to me once and never during actual gameplay, so I consider it a minor one, but it is still an issue regardless.
Despite some technical issues, Death’s Gambit is still a worthwhile recommendation. The bosses are well-designed, the soundtrack is great, and there is plenty of replayability. Even so, the combat is not perfect, especially with the dodging and combat feedback. The ladders could also use some work too, but the game still earns my recommendation regardless.
You can buy Death’s Gambit on Steam here.
I was provided a free review copy of the game in order to write this review. Read more about how I do my game reviews here.